Wednesday, February 26, 2014
I've referred to the folks who write the headlines as the Star's Creative Headline Writing Team and even held a "Worst Star Headline of the Year" contest. The paper's headlines have gotten better since then, but today they slipped back into their old bad ways, with an assist from reporter Alexis Huicochea.
Here's the headline blasted from the top right hand of today's front page: Ground is familiar at TUSD's $92K event. A snark followed by a misstatement. It's a twofer.
First the misstatement. It wasn't a $92,000 event. The consultants were hired for a variety of duties. The Tuesday event was one of them. That’s in the contract language. I’m sure the contract is available to the Star. I’ve read it.
I can't really blame the headline writers, since Huicochea included the same twofer in her opening sentence:
A team of outside consultants, brought in at a cost of $92,500 yesterday, didn’t tell Tucson Unified School District leaders anything they didn’t already know or that hasn’t been said before:
The sentence says, the consultants were "brought in at a cost of $92,500 yesterday." Huicochea may have deniability here — she didn't exactly say the $92K was for that event only — but good writing is about clarity, and the clear message in her opening is, TUSD spent $92,000 for eight hours work. Later she reports that the consultants will provide some school board training and compilation of the feedback as well. Even that's incomplete. Read. The. Contract.
As for the snark. Huicochea begins her story with a "Money for nothing" snark: $92,000 to tell the participants things they already know. If Star columnist Tim Steller wrote that, I might disagree with him, but I wouldn't think he was overstepping his bounds writing it. Steller is a columnist. His job is to opine. But Huicochea is a reporter, and her primary job is to report. That opening sentence is flat out bad reporting. First, it misstates the cost of the event. Second, it injects the reporter's opinion before it presents an objective statement of the facts.
If I may get a little first-name-basis here: Alexis, you've learned the ed beat pretty well and have done a reasonably good job with it. Please don't be seduced by the siren song of front page headlines and bylines. It's happened before. At least one reporter no longer with the Star (cough, Rob O'Dell, cough) made his name by Tucson bashing, playing fast and loose with the facts, often contradicting himself by the time he finished writing an article, and earning himself lots of screaming, front page headlines in the process. In the past, the Star has enjoyed TUSD bashing as well. Hell, it sells papers. Your two earlier articles about Sanchez and the consultants turned a faux-scandal into the Crime of the Century. If there's fire behind all the smoke you reported, you didn't find it, in spite of two hair-on-fire articles. Now you're using those overblown pieces to inflate what should be a reasonably quiet, fact-based article into another front page "shocker."